John Pence Gallery

Dorothy Morgan, Winter Trees, 2002<br>Courtesy John Pence Gallery, San Francisco, California

“Winter Landscapes,” at the John Pence Gallery in San Francisco in January, explored the painterly possibilities of the season with forty works by contemporary artists and past masters. Less colorful than other times of year—blossoming spring, emerald summer or vibrant autumn—winter has its own attractions, even for city dwellers. The prints of Hiroshige and the urban snowsqualls painted by Childe Hassam and George Bellows capture the appeal of city snowscapes. But winter has a special magic in the countryside, where snow remakes natural phenomena into more abstract patterns, and solstice light provides delicate luminosity. Dorothy Morgan’s Winter Trees (2002) has an almost German Romantic feel. A delicate pink-and-lemon sky glows through the silhouetted tracery of bare branches and adds a blush to a field of snow. In contrast to this hush, John Morra’s Storm over Cranberry Bog (2000) captures the violence of roiling grey clouds, a dramatic herald of rough weather.

A number of earlier twentieth-century artists add some historical ballast to the exhibition. John Carlson (1875–1947) is represented by Templed Hills, an elevated view of miles of rocky hills and forested slopes. The composition is divided into layers, with snowy fields sandwiched between grey-blue hills and brown-green foliage. The simplified, rounded shapes and overall blue tonality make this painting reminiscent of Rockwell Kent’s heroic landscapes. Walter Launt Palmer’s (1854–1932) Slumbering Brook is much more intimate, with feathery tree branches massing to the top of the canvas. The eponymous brook has disappeared under a blanket of white, leaving only the elegant bones of the streambed. Joseph McGurl, represented by several works here, has been painting in Yosemite and Tahoe for several years. His Tuolomne Meadows (2002) is a classic western landscape, suggesting Bierstadt, both in the flamboyant rose-colored light and in the sense of vast space. The snowcapped peaks in the background seem almost infinitely far from the trees and puddled meadow of the foreground; the result is a sense of exhilarating openness. John P. Osborne’s Snow (1996) is a nearly square canvas divided by a swelling horizon line of drifting snow. Beyond this crest is a screen of trees, some evergreen, some bare with branches that catch golden glints of sunlight. The lower half of the painting is an expanse of white, nearly featureless, a perfect opportunity for brushwork and blue shadows. Snow may be nature’s most abstract phenomenon; it is no surprise painters are fascinated by it.

Among the other artists featured in the exhibition were Jacob Collins, Adam Forfang, Jacob Pfeiffer and Kate Lehman. John Pence Gallery, 750 Post Street, San Francisco, California 94109. Telephone (415) 441-1138. On the web at

American Arts Quarterly, Winter 2005, Volume 22, Number 1